One day soon, during this holiday season, a 13-year-old Holyoke boy will open a red-wrapped box to find exactly what he wanted.
"We operate entirely by the kindness of strangers," said Christie Elman, education coordinator for Homework House, an afterschool program that serves some 100 low-income Holyoke children each year. "Parents really count on the things we can provide, and the only way we can provide them is because of you."
This year's Giving Tree Campaign -- HCC's 16th annual -- collected 336 gifts for the benefit of Homework House and three other local nonprofit agencies: WestMass Elder Care, the Holyoke Soldiers' Home and the Mass. Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children.
Representatives from each of the agencies attended a holiday reception at HCC and left in cars and vans loaded with gifts for their clients.
"I look foward to this event every year," said Angie Morrell, prevention programs director for MSPCC in Holyoke. "It makes me cry."
This year, Priscilla Chalmers, executive director of WestMass Elder Care, brought a poster filled with photographs of clients who have received gifts through the HCC Giving Tree Campaign in past years.
The most vulnerable, she said, are low-income people, people of color, widows and widowers who have outlived their loved ones.
"They are truly alone," she said. "For them birthdays and holidays are especially difficult."
She pointed out a photo of one gentleman who had been homeless in the past.
"He remarked last year how nice it was to be remembered by the college," she said.
John Paradis, deputy superintendent at the Holyoke Soldiers' Home, echoed that sentiment, talking about one particular resident, a veteran of World War II, who had outlived his famly.
"His family now is us at the Soldiers' Home -- and you," Paradis said. "We are so proud to be part of a community that remembers us. On behalf of the 275 veterans at the Soldiers' Home, we can't thank you enough."
Photos by CHRIS YURKO: (Left) Representatives from the MSPCC attended a holiday party to celebrate HCC's 16th annual Giving Tree campaign. (Right) HCC Wellness Services coordinator Mary Jane O'Connor arranges gifts for WestMass Elder Care. (Thumbnail) A table full of gifts for Homework House donated by members of the HCC community.